OFFSHORE ACCIDENT ATTORNEYS

Accidents on vessels in the open sea that involve serious or fatal injuries and/or property damage are commonly referred to as offshore accidents. The causes of these accidents are beyond measure—it could be that someone fell on a slippery deck, a piece of equipment failed, or even a fire caused a large explosion. Some even involve acts of nature, like hurricanes and tropical storms. One thing, however, remains constant in almost all of these cases: negligence is almost always the largest contributing factor.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, there were over 42 major injuries that occurred in the 2010–2011 year; this resulted in over 150 workers suffering a serious injury out of over 100,000. Beyond this, there were over 100 “over-three-day” injuries; this calculated out to every 400 workers out of every 100,000.

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury in an offshore accident, you deserve to have your legal rights protected by a maritime accident attorney who knows the best way to protect you.

COMMON TYPES OF OFFSHORE ACCIDENTS

Maritime accidents are often more devastating than accidents in other occupations. This is due to a few factors. For starters, many offshore accidents occur a long distance from the nearest aid station. The lag time between the injury and help arriving creates far worse consequences. Another reason is that maritime workers often deal with dangerous machinery in difficult weather, increasing the chances of a truly horrible accident.

Commercial Fishing

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has declared commercial fishing to be the most dangerous job in the United States for years. In a 10-year period, 545 fishermen were killed while at sea. Over half of the casualties were the result of a “vessel disaster,” such as a crash, sinking, fire, or some kind of mechanical failure. A third occurred as a result of falling overboard, which can happen when the deck is in a dangerous condition and the weather is bad. The causes of a commercial fishing accident include overworking, slippery surfaces, dangerous weather, poorly-maintained vessels, and more.

Crane Accidents

If a crane accident occurred—regardless of whether the accident occurred because of a lack of maintenance, training, or supervision—you do not deserve to suffer in silence. By hiring an experienced maritime attorney, you can fight for the compensation you deserve to cover all damages that you have suffered, such as medical fees.

Cruise Ship Accidents

Cruise ship injury claims can be made on behalf of a passenger who was victimized by sexual assault, on an injury sustained during a shore excursion, or even an accident involving the ship itself. They can also be made on behalf of seamen.

Ferry Worker Accidents

Ferries are one of the most convenient forms of modern transportation. Unfortunately, should there be crew negligence, an unsafe docking procedure, or a failure to follow safety regulations, the accidents can be life-threatening.

Jack-Up Rig

Fires, explosions, loose cables, and malfunctioning equipment can all be the cause of serious offshore accidents aboard jack-up rigs. The Jones Act frequently applies to seafarers who are on board these vessels.

Marine Cargo Handling

In the first month of 2015, five cargo ships experienced terrible accidents, many of which were due to improperly secured cargo. Improper weight distribution and handling often lead to capsizing or sinking, as in the case of the Cemfjord. This vessel was transporting cement but capsized due to a combination of poor weather and unsafe weight distribution. Eight crew members were presumed dead after an extensive search found no trace of them. For employees who work onshore with marine cargo, injuries may still be covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

Oil Platform

Oil platform accidents are some of the most deadly incidents at sea. The Deepwater Horizon disaster, which claimed 11 lives and injured 16, comes to mind as the most famous of these incidents. However, even more, devastating and recent explosions have occurred. Pemex, a Mexican drilling company, lost 37 employees in an explosion in 2013. Explosions can be caused by a number of things; most cite the handling of dangerous and flammable chemicals as the cause of many explosions. However, drilling equipment is designed to handle these chemicals. The more crucial cause is faulty or unexamined equipment, which operates far below standard quality.

Rigger

In many cases, offshore accidents involve a crane or derrick. Many times, those injured in these types of accidents can find themselves protected under maritime law, such as the Jones Act. If you would like to discuss your case, call today.

Shipyard

Working in a shipyard makes employees vulnerable to a unique set of dangers, which can result in musculoskeletal injuries, nerve damage, and even severe burns. These victims deserve relief.

Spud Barges

Workers on a spud barge are particularly susceptible to serious injuries because of the heavy equipment all around them. From being hit by the spud to having a hand crushed while removing a spud pin, these dangers can be life-threatening.

SLIP & FALL ACCIDENTS

If you work or have worked on an offshore oil platform, jack-up rig, or vessel, you understand the dangers that the deck can hold. Deck accidents are a common fact of life out on the high seas, and many seamen are injured each year due to similar accidents. One of the most common types of accidents that occur offshore is a fall accident.

A slippery or icy deck surface, unstable footing on stairs or on a deck, or objects that are dangerous to someone walking on the platform are just a few of the causes of fall accidents. A more dangerous type of fall can occur from a height, such as when a person is suspended above the ground or climbing a ladder.

As an injured seaman, you have right to pursue financial compensation for maintenance and cure Maintenance and cure are paid medical treatments and the time needed to recover after a seaman is injured at their place of employment. After a slip and fall accident, an injury victim may suffer a bad back injury, broken bones, or even head trauma. He or she may now seek maintenance and cure benefits from their employer under maritime law rights.

HOT WORK ACCIDENTS

Hot work includes jobs where welding, burning, brazing, or the use of spark-producing tools are involved. All of these jobs are necessary, but they bring on the potential danger of a burn injury. Sometimes, maritime workers need to perform hot work in hollow or enclosed structures that are not large enough for them to enter.

Some of these hollow or enclosed structures are located in shipyards and often need hot work attention. They include drums, pipes, piping systems, bilge keels, lampposts, inaccessible voids, sealed bulkheads, hatches, coamings, skegs, rudders, pipe stanchions, lapped-plates, doubler-plates, masts, booms, rub-rails, mooring bits, bollards, vents, container frames, cargo lids, sponsons, buoys, container frames, box girders, cargo lids, and floats.

Explosions and Fire Hazards from Hot Works

Whenever an employee is performing hot work, there is a risk of a fire or explosion.

Often, flammable materials can catch fire when they react with a spark. In addition to sparking a fire or an explosion, these flammable materials may release toxic vapors, which can have a widespread effect. These toxic gases normally contain dangerous chemicals that can cause medical conditions in workers.

Sometimes the chemicals can also aggravate an already present medical condition. Combustible preservatives will explode when they come into contact with a spark from a hot work project. A danger specific to maritime hot works is the risk of salt water causing metal surfaces to rust. This rust will then release hydrogen gas, which can sometimes facilitate a fire or an explosion when the gas reacts with a flame. Also, fuel oil on ships or solvents, degreasers, and cleaning chemicals may leak from their storage units and react with the sparks from hot work.

Protection from Hot Work Injuries

If you are going to be doing hot work, it is important to abide by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines for hot workers. If your employer or supervisor does not ensure that you are being careful and safe, then you may have the right to seek compensation for negligence. Individuals working with heat are always required to wear personal protective equipment for their eyes, face, torso, extremities, and respiratory system. This rule is applicable to all those that are welding, burning, cutting, or brazing in a way that produces heat or sparks.

OSHA also demands that workers check an area to make sure that there are no combustible materials before starting work. If there are combustible materials nearby, they need to be covered or isolated before work can continue. Also, all sampling ports on the ship must be opened to drain the residual from the hot words. A competent shipyard person needs to inspect a structure and test for flammable vapors or liquids before allowing hot work. If there are no sampling ports near the location where the workers will be doing their job, then authorities will need to make sure that a small hole is drilled into the structure to allow for air sampling and testing.

If there are flammable vapors, liquids, or preservatives in the location and the gas reading is above 10% of the lower explosive limit, then workers must drill a second hole in the structure to allow the vapors to dissipate. Work cannot continue until the lower explosive limit is under 10%. After the structure has been ventilated, it must be tested by a professional before hot work can be performed. If you are injured in a hot works accident and suffer a burn injury or an injury from an explosion because the OSHA hot works instructions were not followed,

LOADING ACCIDENTS

Offshore transportation is one of the most affordable ways for businesses to get their products from one location to another. Cargo ships and large bulk vessels transport millions of tons of cargo per year, but how does that cargo get on and off of the vessels? The answer is loading and unloading crews. Ships get loaded and unloaded at the port, which requires many crewmembers and heavy lifting cranes and other machinery. Offshore loading systems will differ depending on what type of cargo needs to be transported: liquid, dry, bulk, or container. Those who conduct operations at ports and harbors know this is a difficult job to do and that accidents frequently happen.

Ports come equipped with lifting machinery that can take bulk materials from ships to warehouses or to be placed directly on trucks and railways for further transport. One of the most common types of accidents that occur when loading and unloading is falling loads. If a load is unstable, then it can swing and cause massive amounts of damage. This is why workers have to be properly trained and equipped to handle this machinery. If a load falls, it could cause a serious crush injury. Crush injuries often result in amputation of limbs or death. A swinging load could result in extreme blunt force trauma to the head or other parts of the body that causes serious injuries.

OSHA Loading and Offloading Standards

According to the United States Department of Labor, there are specified procedures that loading and unloading personnel must follow in order to promote safety and decrease the chance of serious accidents. Methods differ depending on whether the loading and unloading are of trucks, trains, or maritime vessels. Loading and unloading of flammable materials such as petrochemical products is among one the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. Those who perform these kinds of job duties will need to be specially trained to appropriately handle this material.

Cranes at Port Loading Facilities

Each port has a port authority. This is a type of mini-governmental authority to regulate all actions at ports. If an accident happens, the port authority is responsible for investigating it. Loading and unloading at the port is now not the only way that cargo can be transported. In recent years, there has been an increase in the popularity of offshore loading, which means that cargo transfers happen while these vessels are at sea. Marine loading arms and tandem loading by way of boom-to-tanker transport are just a few examples.

STRUCK-BY MOVING VEHICLES

Workers who are involved in marine cargo handling are almost constantly moving vehicles and equipment. If drivers and pedestrians are not extremely careful, then this can lead to serious injuries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers needed to make sure that all employees are in a safe work environment by providing traffic lanes and personnel safety zones for workers.

The Demand for Traffic Lanes on Marine Cargo Ships

Vehicle accidents often happen when an employee is coming, signaling, or working on foot. The best way to avoid serious injury in these accidents is to create definitive traffic lanes on the ships and rigs so that drivers know where to operate their machines or vehicles. This will also help workers avoid standing in lanes where they could be hit.

OSHA says that all traffic lanes should be clearly marked and wide enough to protect all workers. The lanes should also be wide enough to accommodate the largest piece of equipment that is used on the rig. This may be a straddle carrier, a bomb cart, a vehicle, or another machine. When bomb carts are being used, supervisors need to relocate any cone operations or cone bins.

According to OSHA, drivers should be carefully directed when towing large amounts of cargo so that the equipment won’t extend into traffic cranes and so that drivers can align their equipment accurately under the crane. Semi-tractors should be driving in traffic lanes so that the haulage equipment won’t extend into personnel safety zones.

Personnel Safety Zones

OSHA also says that there should be personnel safety zones on both sides of every lane where workers can stand and be sure that they will not be hit. These zones need to be wide enough to accommodate cone boxes and provide adequate space for a worker to walk around cone boxes without walking into the traffic lanes. The personnel zones and traffic zones should be free of any hatch covers that can cause a trip or slip-and-fall accident.

Supervisors or cargo ship owners need to make sure that specialty or project cargo can be transported on the flatbeds, “mafia,” or lowboys that may be needed at the scene. Many times, these special loads will extend into personnel safety zones, so specific instructions will need to be announced. A traffic pattern under the crane should be established so that longshoremen will be aware of and familiar with the pattern and know when to avoid being near machinery and vehicles. If there is a deviation in the pattern, it is important that a supervisor communicate this to the on-foot longshoremen. 

DRUG-RELATED MARITIME ACCIDENTS

Maritime employers are required to provide their crews with safe work environments, including work environments free of illegal drugs and drug activity. As maritime jobs can be very dangerous, it is crucial that workers give their full attention to their job duties. A seaman can make mistakes on the job if they are under the influence of illegal drugs or narcotics. Their actions can endanger their fellow crewmembers and be hazardous to the entire vessel or ship, leading to dangerous accidents. If you or a loved one has been injured in a maritime accident due to the drug impairment of a co-worker, you need to seek legal representation. You may be entitled to compensation. 

Impaired Maritime Workers & Employer Negligence

Accidents can easily happen when an offshore worker is under the influence of drugs while working. In many cases, these incidents could have been stopped if proper supervision was in place. However, when maritime employers do not enforce drug and alcohol testing policies or provide adequate supervision for workers, drug-related accidents can follow. This kind of employer inaction can be considered negligence. If you believe your accident was caused by another employee’s drug use, be sure to call our firm right away.

Drug Policies

Maritime employers are required to have a written drug and alcohol testing policy. Drug testing requirements apply to most commercial vessels, regardless of the number of employees aboard. Avoiding offshore accidents and preventing injuries aboard a vessel require quick reactions and sound judgment, but an impaired or drunk maritime worker may have slowed reaction time, poor coordination, and faulty judgment factors that can contribute to a serious injury.

Employers’ Duties

Employers are required to conduct pre-employment and random testing to detect illegal drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, heroin, opiates, amphetamines, and phencyclidine. The random tests conducted periodically throughout the year should cover 50% of the crew. Maritime employers are required to keep records of crew and employees tested for dangerous drugs and retain the results of positive tests, including pre-employment tests, for a minimum of five years. Employers must keep negative tests for at least a year.

Workers Subject to Testing

All full-time, part-time, seasonal, year-round, and contracted workers who meet the definition of a crew member of a commercial vessel are subject to testing, according to U.S. Coast Guard regulations. Also, all crew who serve aboard a vessel in a safety-sensitive position are required to be tested randomly for drugs.

Reporting Positive Tests

Maritime employers are required to report all positive drug tests of credentialed mariners to the Coast Guard. Employers are also required to remove a crew member from a safety-sensitive job who fails a drug test or refuses a drug screening. Federal regulations do not require an employer to fire a seaman or crew member who fails a drug test or refuses the test. The crew member, however, may not work in any safety-sensitive job until they obtain a return-to-work letter. It is up to the employer to determine whether the violation results in a dismissal.

Testing After Maritime Accidents

After any serious maritime accident involving a fatality or the release of more than 10,000 gallons of oil, maritime employers are required to test the crew directly involved in the accident for drugs and alcohol. The post-accident alcohol test is to be administered within two hours of the incident, and the drug test must be administered as soon as practicable. A mariner is presumed to be under the influence of alcohol if their blood alcohol concentration is.04% or greater.

PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT

Offshore workers face health complications that can cause both long- and short-term health effects. If an employer does not provide their offshore workers with the proper protective and safety equipment, they should be held accountable for any injuries incurred that could have been prevented or lessened because of said safety equipment.

Offshore workers can also sustain injuries because of improper handling of equipment; even in these cases, the employer can be held responsible if they did not provide their employees with proper training and safety equipment for a particular piece of machinery. As an employee of an offshore company, it is important to understand your rights as a worker so that you can get the appropriate protective equipment. If your employer fails to provide you with those basic rights, you are liable to receive compensation if, as a result, you have been injured in an accident.

Who Is Held Liable After an Equipment Failure?

After a person has been injured in an accident caused by an equipment failure at an offshore site, they may wonder how they can recover some of the damages and who will be held responsible for the accident. Will the employer be held responsible? Will another worker on the ship be held responsible? Will you have to pay for your own injuries? These are all valid questions that an injury victim or the family of a victim may have.

An equipment failure includes any accident that occurs due to the design or maintenance of the equipment at an offshore worksite. This can be on an oil rig, on a ship, or at a shipyard. Say, for example, that a ship’s platform is improperly maintained and falls, injuring or killing many of the workers on board. The employer may be held liable for failure to take proper care of the vessel.

WHAT ABOUT STORMS & HURRICANES?

Storms are acts of nature. Maritime employers cannot be held responsible for hurricanes themselves, but they can be held liable if they fail to respond to adverse weather. Meteorologists can better predict storms and their paths, making offshore companies responsible for monitoring weather conditions and taking appropriate measures to protect vessels and their crews. Failures to evacuate offshore rig workers, unseaworthy vessels, and improper courses that put ships in contact with dangerous storms are all examples of conduct that can lead to offshore accidents involving hurricanes and other heavy weather. The loss of El Faro in Hurricane Joaquin and the near-capsizing of the Globetrotter II in Hurricane Ida are illustrations of this.

YOUR RIGHTS UNDER MARITIME INJURY LAW

After an accident, you may be left wondering what steps to take. You may struggle with financial and medical issues, trying to decide how to proceed. It’s crucial to be aware that maritime law protects certain rights. Taking advantage of these may be a valuable asset to those injured at sea.

Regardless of who was at fault in your accident, as an offshore worker, you have a seaman’s right. You may be entitled to maintenance and cure benefits and payment of your wages for the duration of the voyage. The principles of maintenance and cure may entitle you to fully paid medical care and hospitalization, including diagnostic tests and therapy, as well as room and board, food, and transportation until you are fit for duty again or reach full medical recovery. You also have the right to choose your own doctor and get a second medical opinion.

Certain maritime employers may push injured workers into seeing a certain physician after an injury, but you have the right to choose your own doctor. Selecting a doctor carries several advantages, as a doctor endorsed by the company is more likely to be interested in the company’s best interests than yours, and you may find yourself lacking adequate recovery time or treatment to save funds. This makes selecting your own unbiased doctor an important step in ensuring that you fully recover from an incident and that your medical needs are truly covered. The Jones Act states that all injured mariners are entitled to full medical benefits until recovery is complete, regardless of who is at fault in the incident. Do not let your employer bully you into returning to work before you have fully recovered.

When a claim is filed, your employer may request a statement regarding the incident. While you are obligated to initially report your injury to your employer, you have the right to deny giving a recorded statement. Relaying the details of a real event may sound like an obvious step to take, but even the smallest detail can be used against your case if things are phrased in a certain way or you are not certain which details to give. It is important to consult a lawyer before giving any statement on an injury at sea, so ensure that you are giving a clear and accurate account.

Additionally, insurance companies have the right to ask injured workers to sign any paperwork before providing them with a settlement or medical benefits. An insurance adjuster might stop by a worker who is recovering from an injury and offer them maintenance payments in exchange for quickly signing one piece of paper. You can, and probably should, refuse to sign any of these papers. They may contain a number of additional clauses, including forcing you into arbitration in the event of a dispute.